msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/18/2005 12:09:53 AM ET 2005-04-18T04:09:53

• FAVORITE SONG PLAYED | 12:42 p.m. ET

At a service in the pope’s hometown of Wadowice, Poland, where some 15,000 flooded the square in front of St. Mary’s Basilica where John Paul was baptized, an orchestra of firefighters played his favorite song, “The Barge.”

• CROWD FEARS | 11:33 a.m. ET

Italian authorities have asked the Vatican to keep Pope John Paul's burial site closed to visitors for a few days, fearing that crowds which have paralyzed Rome will not leave, a Vatican source said on Friday.

The Vatican said the crypt where popes are buried below St. Peter's Basilica would remain shut at least until Monday.

The source, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the decision was taken at the request of Italian authorities.

• MOST-LOVED PERSON | 10:53 a.m. ET

A French priest who traveled 24 hours to Vatican City says Pope John Paul is the most loved person “in the history of mankind.”

Also in St. Peter’s Square was Patricia Vitale, who canceled a Florida vacation with her husband. Instead, they flew from Illinois to Rome to celebrate the man she calls “the greatest father figure in my life.”

A Polish woman who made the trip from Rome says John Paul was “the most important” person in the world, and that he made it possible for Poland to be free. It was a thought echoed by a fellow Pole, who made a 28-hour journey to get to Italy. He says John Paul showed people how to give love to others.

Another man from Poland said simply that the service was “a nice goodbye” for the pope.

• PRAISE IN IRAN | 9:12 a.m. ET

To worshippers’ chants of “Death to America,” an influential Iranian cleric praised Pope John Paul’s teachings on peace.

Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has hinted at a comeback bid in June’s presidential election, praised the pontiff, who was buried in the Vatican on Friday, for his swift condemnation of U.S. military actions in Iraq.

“He was a pope who spoke out for world peace,” Rafsanjani told worshippers at Tehran University. “The late pope gained more respect as he condemned the war in Iraq and the crimes of Americans in Iraqi prisons.”

• AFRICA WATCHES | 8:20 a.m. ET

Normally teeming streets in Africa emptied on Friday as Roman Catholics gathered around televisions to watch the burial in Rome of Pope John Paul, a man many on the struggling continent considered a friend.

“This was a pope and a half, there has never been another like him,” Wanyiri Gitonga told Reuters in Seychelles, as he watched the funeral on television.

“The whole world seems to have come to a standstill. This man was great.”

State television broadcast the funeral live in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, the Seychelles, Cameroon, South Africa, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar.

The Seychelles, Malawi, the Congo Republic and the DRC declared a national day of mourning. In Congo’s capital Brazzaville, a giant television screen was set up for those without one at home.

Africa has the fastest growing Roman Catholic population in the world.

• RABBI'S APPRECIATION | 6:31 a.m. ET

Pope John Paul’s decision to mention a Jew in his will was a sign to his successor to continue and improve his record of opening to Judaism, Rome’s former Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff has said.

Toaff, who welcomed the pope on his ground-breaking visit to the city’s synagogue in 1986, said in interviews with Italian newspapers published on Friday that he was surprised to be named along with two Roman Catholic prelates.

John Paul, the first pope to set foot in a synagogue, is seen as the pontiff who most helped heal Jewish rifts with the Christian world after the Holocaust.

“It is a very important, moving fact that I did not expect,” Toaff told the daily La Repubblica. “It is a significant and profound gesture for Jews. But I think it is also an indication to the Catholic world.”

• BIGGEST SECURITY OPERATION? | 5:52 a.m. ET

An Italian military commander says he doesn’t think he’s ever seen such a huge effort to protect any one place in Italy.

Security is extremely tight in Rome and Vatican City, where hundreds of dignitaries are on hand for Pope John Paul’s funeral. Even bishops were required to go through metal detectors.

Helicopters and fighter jets are constantly flying over St. Peter’s Square, with authorities saying their worst-case scenario was a threat from the sky. Anti-aircraft rocket launchers are cocked and ready at spots around the capital.

Paramilitary officers with automatic weapons are at nearly all of Rome’s intersections. The city is virtually sealed off to car and truck traffic until later today.

The city’s police chief says some eight-thousand security agents are on hand, including two-thousand uniformed guards in the square mixing with 15-hundred plainclothes officers.

• WELSH MONKS FOLLOW EVENTS | 4:45 a.m. ET

Monks living on an island off the west coast of Wales have flown in a satellite dish to watch the Pope’s funeral on Friday.

Caldey Abbey, on Caldey Island, is home to the monks of the contemplative Cistercian order which follows a strict routine of prayer and work throughout the day and observes vows of silence every evening.

They already own a television set, although it has not been used for some time, but the satellite is needed to pick up the signal from Rome.

The monks have promised to return the dish once the funeral is over.

• CASTRO'S COMMENTS | 3:52 a.m. ET

Cuban President Fidel Castro is minimizing the role Pope John Paul played in bringing down communism in the former Soviet bloc.

Castro gave a five-hour speech late Thursday dedicated to the late pontiff.

“It’s true that the pope was very critical of communism. But he also became very critical of the capitalist system.” Castro also noted that the pope didn’t try to end the Cuban “revolution” when he visited in 1998.

Castro also had some tough words for President Bush who is attending today’s funeral. Castro called Bush a hypocrite for going “to cry in the presence” of a pope who was adamantly against his policies in Iraq.

• TRIBUTE IN MEXICO CITY | 2 a.m. ET

Thousands of devout Catholics lined the streets of Mexico’s capital Thursday night to watch a popemobile drive by in a final tribute to Pope John Paul II just hours before his funeral.

The pope visited Mexico five times in his 26-year reign and helped end decades of antagonism between the church and an anti-clerical state in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation.

Crowds of people threw flowers at the white popemobile once used by the pontiff as it made its way toward the Basilica de Guadalupe, Mexico’s holiest shrine, where tens of thousands more gathered for a special tribute and to watch a broadcast on giant screens of the funeral rites in St. Peter’s Square.

Only the driver and a former bodyguard of the pope were inside the popemobile. Left behind from a papal visit, this white vehicle is longer than the classic glass popemobile usually used to ferry the pope on official visits.

In the special compartment used by the pope on one of his trips here, a chair stood empty but for a white papal robe draped over it and a single photograph of the pope.

“I stood in this spot the last time he came and when I saw him, I was filled with faith and love. Now I am filled with much sadness because he has gone,” said Monica Santiana, a 34-year-old nurse.

• HUGE THRONG IN KRAKOW | 11 p.m. ET

A crowd of 1 million worshippers held a candlelight Mass in Krakow in honor of Pope John Paul II, gathering in the same vast meadows that drew crowds during his return visits to Poland.

The Mass followed a silent march through the city, where John Paul had once served as bishop and cardinal before being called to Rome to become pope.

“I know that he is here with us,” said Joanna Godawa, 25, who works for a travel agency that sent some 600 people to Rome for the funeral. “He is looking at us from above and smiling. He is peaceful and happy that we have gathered here for him.”

Bishop Jan Szkodan alluded to papal Masses that drew huge crowds in the Blonie meadows in 1979, 1983, 1997 and 2002, when some 2 million people turned out. A million people were waiting there in 1999, when John Paul had to cancel because of illness.

“It is the right thing for Krakow to bid farewell to him here, in the meadows,” said Szkodan. “We are here to bid him farewell, but also to receive his teachings anew.”

Looking out at the many young adults and teenagers in the crowd, he added, “He used to tell young people, you are the future of the world, so it is good so many young people have gathered here.”

Krakow police spokesman Sylwia Bober said the crowed numbered about 1 million.

• CASTRO RIPS BUSH | 10:50 p.m. ET

Cuban President Fidel Castro eulogized Pope John Paul as a fierce critic of savage capitalism during a speech Thursday night and said it was hypocritical of President Bush to attend his funeral.

Castro said it was true Pope John Paul II opposed communism, but that in his later years he became a fierce critic of capitalism’s abuses and in particular U.S. imperialism. The pope visited Cuba in 1998.

“Now they have gone to cry before the cadaver of John Paul II, who so opposed the war, who so opposed the imperialist order, who so often condemned consumerism and this brutal war in Iraq,” Castro said during his televised address.

“How far will this hypocrisy go? In my judgment (Bush’s presence) is an outrage to the memory of John Paul II,” he said.

Castro’s government surprised many by declaring three days of mourning and granting ample state-run media coverage to the Roman Catholic Church’s activities after the Pope’s death.

• CLERGY SEX ABUSE INQUIRY ON HOLD | 5:40 p.m. ET

Important business at the Vatican related to the clergy sex abuse crisis in the American church is on hold during the transition to a new papacy.

Church law that broadened the bishops’ power to discipline predatory priests was under review when Pope John Paul II died, and a Vatican agency had been deciding the fate of some accused clergy. Details of the cases are not known, but they likely include priests who say they are innocent.

The bishops emphasized that church policy remains in effect in the United States, and the cases of priests and the church law review will be taken up again when the next pope is in place within weeks.

But the Rev. Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils based in Chicago, said the wait was difficult for clergy whose future was in jeopardy.

“I think they’ll be concerned about further delay if they have a case before the tribunal there,” said Silva, whose organization represents about one-third of the 43,000 American priests. “But the canons are in place, the tribunals are in place and I think it will work.”

• GATHERING OF THE POWERFUL | 3 p.m. ET

The funeral of Pope John Paul II on Friday is shaping up to be the biggest gathering of the powerful in modern times, including four kings, five queens, at least 70 presidents and prime ministers and more than 14 leaders of other religions, in addition to an expected 2 million faithful.

President Bush, who will be the first sitting U.S. president to attend a papal funeral, heads the delegation from the United States. Britain’s Prince Charles postponed his wedding for a day in order to attend.

Among those notably absent will be Russia's Patriarch Alexiy II — who repeatedly refused to meet the pope — and a representative from China, which does not have ties with the Vatican. Taipei, however, will be represented by President Chen Shui-bian.


• JOHN PAUL: FEW WORLDLY GOODS | 2:00 p.m. ET

The last will and testament of Pope John Paul II was released and translated, offering insight into the physical suffering of the late pontiff, who weighed resigning in his last few years.

His will was largely a spiritual reflection, but accounted for his very few personal possessions.

"I leave no property behind me of which it is necessary to dispose," John Paul wrote.

"Regarding those items of daily use of which I made use, I ask that they be distributed as may appear opportune. My personal notes are to be burned. ... Regarding the funeral, I repeat the same disposition given by the Holy Father Paul VI. ... Burial in the bare earth, not in a tomb."

• POLISH PILGRIMS CONVERGE ON ROME | 12:55 p.m. ET

Trains filled with Polish pilgrims determined to see the funeral of countryman Pope John Paul II approached Rome on Thursday.

Thousands of Poles rushed to buy tickets to Rome, some within hours of the Pope’s death on Saturday, as the country began grieving. More are driving to the Italian capital, which will draw around 150,000 Poles for the biggest funeral in Vatican history.

After about eight hours of queuing for tickets and a 24-hour train journey crossing four borders, passengers said they were ready to endure crowds and chaos in a city already brimming with 4 million faithful from around the world.

“We needed to say goodbye to him,” Rafal Baranski told Reuters on the train from the southern city of Krakow.

“It doesn’t matter that there will be masses of people, it doesn’t matter we don’t know where we will sleep. It is just important to be there. This will be our last meeting with him after all,” he said.

• POLITICAL BATTLE IN MALAWI | 11:56 a.m. ET

Malawi’s parliament has demanded the government recall a delegation sent to Pope John Paul’s funeral, describing the group as too junior for such a high-profile event.

But, with the funeral due to take place on Friday morning, it looked unlikely that Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, would be able to fly in a replacement delegation.

President Bingu Wa Mutharika, who has declared Friday a public holiday in memory of the Pontiff, has sent his presidential adviser on religious affairs and ruling party officials to Rome.

MPs almost unanimously condemned the choice as a disgrace to the southern African nation. They called for a more weighty delegation, possibly including the vice-president, to be sent immediately.

“We demand that the delegation be recalled because it is too low key for a funeral of such stature,” former Foreign Minister Lilain Patel said.

• BULGARIA REJECTS ASSASSINATION ALLEGATIONS | 11:37 a.m. ET

Bulgaria rejects new allegations that it was involved in the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca in a communist conspiracy.

“Bulgaria considers the case closed both politically and legally,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Gergana Grancharova told Reuters. “Bulgaria has proved to the world that all accusations are ill-founded.”

• SENATORS TO PAY RESPECTS | 10:35 a.m. ET

U.S. senators, in Rome for the pope’s funeral, are expected to pay their respects in St. Peter’s Basilica this morning.

The delegation of 14 senators include Majority Leader Bill Frist as well as senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy.

• MUGABE DEFIES EU, FLIES TO ROME | 8:35 a.m. ET

President Robert Mugabe is defying an EU travel ban by flying from Zimbabwe unannounced to join world leaders attending Pope John Paul II’s funeral in Rome.

The trip was immediately denounced by one of Mugabe’s fiercest human rights critics, Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo.

“That man will use any opportunity to fly to Europe to promote himself. The man is shameless,” said the archbishop.

By going to Rome, the 81-year-old Mugabe defied EU travel sanctions imposed in 2002 after its observers were barred from disputed presidential elections. His ruling ZANU-PF party last week announced it had gained a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections also marred by fraud allegations.

However, Archbishop Ncube noted that the Italian government was obliged by its treaties with the Vatican to admit Mugabe for the pope’s funeral.

NBC News, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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